A film/book review by Jeff Finlay
Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Those of you that know me pretty well may be surprised that I am writing
a review of this movie, and the book it was based upon. I am mostly
into fantasy, not science fiction, and usually do not enjoy hard sci-fi
movies. I much prefer stories about magical objects, mysterious quests,
and human faith and failings. That is exactly what Contact is about,
with a technological backdrop.
Ellie Arroway is obsessed with radio communication. From her first
ham radio, she tried to contact people from further and further away.
Her father nurtured and encouraged this interest in his daughter, teaching
her the necessary patience to sit with a pair of earphones listening to
static for hours on end. An advanced student, Ellie grew up to get
a doctorate in astronomy, making a revolutionary design change to radio
telescopes. However, her obsession with contacting extraterrestrial
life forms made her the object of ridicule from other scientists and even
her mentor. Finding private funding from a mysterious source, Ellie
went on to become the head of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Being a scientist, and having lost her father at an early age, Ellie
is extremely grounded in reality with no room for the “self-delusions”
of religion. Given this mindset, it is very strange that she falls
in love with a former priest, a man whose faith is extremely important
to him. Actually, part of their attraction is their opposing views on this
ground, and the numerous “debates” that ensue.
Then, all hell breaks loose as Ellie and her scientific team receive
I first fell in love with this book 12 years ago, and have read it
at least four times since. It is a marvelous work dealing with quantifiable
proof that we are not alone in the universe, and how it might affect humans
as individuals and as a world-wide entity. It also deals a lot with
personal faith, and Ellie’s discovery that she too can have an experience
that others may have to accept with little or no proof.
This screen adaptation is very true to the book, and the story comes
across very well on the big screen. I do not say that lightly, because
I usually hate movies based on books that I have read before. There
are very few large changes made in the movie, and overall I believe they
were good decisions.
First off, in the book there was a whole international team of people
sent off in “The Machine,” not just Ellie as the movie depicts. In
my opinion, this change actually enhanced the story by increasing the pressure
placed on Ellie to denounce her faith. In the book, she was able
to eventually receive some strength from the other members of the team.
In the movie, she did not have that luxury, making it harder for her to
stick to her guns at the end, and in my opinion, making her a stronger
character. Another major change is the political environment from the book
to the movie. The book was written during the Cold War, and as such
included a lot more political intrigue and debate between the United States
and Russia. Neither country could get the whole alien message without
cooperation from the other, due to the length of the message and the rotation
of the Earth. So a good deal of the book dealt with the politics
of cooperating within a hostile environment with what both countries thought
might be a description of a weapon. There was also a large world-wide
debate as to the team makeup to travel in the machine. Trying to
carry this story-line over into today’s environment would have been a little
bit ludicrous, although I do think the movie could have contained more
political strife than it did.
The last major change is the ending, basically the last five minutes
of the movie. I will not go into what specifically the difference
is, so as not to ruin the book or the movie for anybody, but I will say
that the original ending would not have come off very well on screen.
It would have been very anti-climatic. It also would have made the movie
a little too esoteric, since it deals with the possibility that science
may lead us to God through the very fundamental physical laws of the universe.
All in all, I highly recommend both the movie Contact, and the book
it was based upon. Both come across well in their own medium, and
are very entertaining and thought-provoking. I am sure Carl Sagan
would be proud of this movie.